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Many A Year Has Passed And Gone

Many A Year Has Passed And Gone

1995


THE RAMONA EXPERIENCE
(Dylan in Concert: 2/4/95)

by J. R. Stokes


 

Part One

A Battle of Him and His Public

 

Ah!   Sunflower

Ah Sunflower!   Weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime,
Where the travellers journey is done.
Where
the Youth pined away with desire,

And the pale virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sunflower wishes to go.

William Blake
A Song of Experience

A bright blue digital spider crawls across the face of time and the numbers change in sequence... click... 9.04 p.m. Right now, on a street corner somewhere in this Global Village a deal is going down and a million dollars is being exchanged for a shipment of high grade crack cocaine... Click... 9.05 p.m.... Behind the barbed wire barricade of a refugee camp built in hell's despair that is the darkest heart of Africa a mother is being raped right now and her family are being slaughtered..... Click... 9.06 p.m. Right now on death row in some foreign penitentiary a simple mind starts to count down the hours to that moment when the world will take its bitter revenge for his life by passing 2,000 volts through his body... Click... 9.07 p.m. Right now in this sports hall on the outskirts of Birmingham, Bob Dylan moves to the centre of the stage and beckons "Come closer, shut softly your watery eyes." 

The song is called "To Ramona" but it could equally be directed at Ramon for the audience, en masse, is genderless: in unison a throng of everyday folk just seeking a goodnights entertainment; but here and there a life broken by restlessness, another by illness, another by frustration, another by misunderstanding. Standing next to me in this lonely crowd a youth pines away with desire, a pale virgin is shrouded in snow. Dylan sings to those lives who seek release: "Come closer, shut softly your watery eyes." 

The command is so easy to follow. Eyes closed to shut out the glare of the bright blue digital spider who crawls relentlessly across the face of time; eyes closed to dream of release from human frailty; right here, right now, the only way is in ascension: "The pangs of your sadness shall pass as your senses will rise." And where does he take us? - beyond the sun that rises in time with our senses: "The flowers of the city though lifelike (as he sings it tonight) get deathlike at times.n 

Ah Blake! The Immortal; Blake the God; Blake the Son; Blake the Holy Ghost. Dylan is Blake's Sunflower of the City: he turns his head to follow the sun's course yet his roots are planted firmly in the earth. He watches with us all as the sun rises and sets, in cyclical motion, day after day, time after time. But he only asks that we should look where he is looking -beyond the sun to that sweet golden clime, where the traveller’s journey is done. Right here, right now, he sings to us who are held down to earth by the frailty of the human condition in all its forms. He asks that we should shut our watery eyes, arise from our earthly graves and aspire to where he also wishes to go. To follow the sound of his tambourine, itself in the shape of the sunflower, for our sadness to disappear through the smoke rings of our minds, to go escaping on the run, swinging madly across the sun. 

But Ah sweet sunflower. You want to say that you are just like us, you can only wish to attain flight - your roots are buried in the earth too. And doesn't the sunflower in it's vegetative cycle rise in all it's glory and then wither and fade - "though lifelike gets deathlike sometimes.” ? Yet tonight, right here, right now, with our watery eyes closed in dreams of aspiration, with our senses rising, all illness and despair are forgotten. We want to be alive and experience the sun at it's highest point. So, sweet sunflower "There's no use in tryin' tr deal with the dyin'." We just will not listen to such talk: you've taken us too far. Indeed too far already, for he needs to remind us of his own human frailty. Him the Wordsmith, Him the Eloquent, Him the Infallible. How dare he admit it: "I cannot explain that in lines." What? We don't want to hear that. You must explain every mystery. 

So the battle commences: the Sunflower knowing his time here will rise and then fade away just like ours, will take us no further. But we want to see the sun and not just the sunflower. This feeling of release right here, right now is too strong. You are the sun that cracks country lips. You are the sun whose strength can burn our skin. We are worshippers of the sun, not the sunflower and we are drawn to you by some unnatural force: "Your magnetic movements still capture the minutes I'm in." 

Ah sunflower! Weary of time. Are you weary of us too so soon? Can you not sustain your strength, can you not satisfy our desire for release, are you not the one to deliver us in this world and not in some other golden clime where the traveller’s journey is done: not for just these minutes we're in but for ever thereafter never to wither and die. Are you not just the sunflower but the very sun itself? I will not heed your reply: why do you treat us like this.

"But it grieves my heart, love,
To see you tryin' to be a part of
A world that just don't exist.
It's all just a dream, babe,
A vacuum, a scheme, babe,
That sucks you into feelin' like this".

So round and round in circles we go:

"I've heard you say many times
That you're better 'n no-one
And no-one is better 'n you.
If you really believe that, you know you got
Nothing to win and nothing to lose".

Better, worse. Worse, better. Win, lose. Lose, win. The cyclical movement of rise and fade, bloom and die. Just like the sunflower with it's circular face. Yet the sunflower is fixed by it's stem to the earth and that is the deep root of our sorrow: the dread realisation that we can never hope to satisfy our longing to be released from the monotony of our broken lives, a monotony that finds no pleasure among our fellow man and as we look towards our only hope of release, you are, momentarily sympathetic and pinpoint exactly the cause of our sorrow:

"From fixtures and forces and friends,
Your sorrow does stem,
That hype you and type you,
Making you feel
That you must be exactly like them".

But, despite your sympathy, we still go round and round in circles. Us wanting release to that place beyond the sun and you imploring that you are merely a sunflower that has to wither and fade. We are getting nowhere, this eternal circle is becoming meaningless. You sense it too.

"I'd forever talk to you,
 
But soon my words,
They would turn into a meaningless ring".

You bluntly deal with our dreams of aspiration, our hopes of release from all this: 

"For deep in my heart I know there is no help I can bring".

And again, emphatically reminding us of your frail mortality:

"Everything passes,
Everything changes,
Just do what you think you should do".

Just like the seasons that pass and change; just like the steps of the sun that rise and fade; just like the sunflower that blooms and dies and then, the final circular movement: a complete reversal of roles as you become as we are and we become as you are: 

"And someday maybe, who knows, baby,
I'll come and be cryin' to you.

In that sweet golden clime where the traveller’s journey is done perhaps you will be here, a broken life in this lonely crowd, and one of us will be standing up there where you are. And on that day, sweet sunflower, you'll come and be cryin' to us for release. 

The music fades, our watery eyes are open again and the dream ends. The bright blue digital spider crawls forward, forward across the face of time and the numbers continue to change in sequence.... Click... 9.12 p.m. Another deal goes down.... Click... 9.13 p.m. Another mother is raped and her family slaughtered.... Click... 9.14 p.m. That simple mind on death row comes closer to an appointment with revenge.... Click. Click. Click. Ah, simple mind, some day maybe, who knows, baby, I'll come and be cryin to you.


On Blake's Sunflower

"The central spring of the poem is the image of the sunflower. The flower which turns it's head to follow the sun's course and is yet rooted in the earth is Blake's symbol for all men and women whose lives are dominated and spoiled by a longing which they can never hope to satisfy, and who are held down to the earth despite their desire for release into some brighter, freer sphere." 

Taken from The Romantic Imagination by C. M. Bowra
(London: Oxford University Press)

 

Insanity Note 

(a) I have interpreted Dylan's song "To Ramona" by linking the impetus behind the same to Blake's poem "Ah! Sunflower". 

(b) "To Ramona" was written at the same time as "Mr Tambourine Man", perhaps even on the same day. 

(c) In a previous Freewheelin', John Welburn wrote an interpretation of "Mr Tambourine Man" by linking the same to the life and work of the artist Vincent Van Gogh. 

(d) Probably the most famous painting of Vincent Van Gogh is entitled....... 

(e) Now that really is insanity!

 


 

Part Two

 Across The Battle Line

Dylan: Come closer, shut softly your watery eyes. The pangs of your sadness shall pass as your senses will rise. The flowers of the city though lifelike get deathlike at times.
   
Audience: There's no use in tryin to deal with the dyin.
   
Dylan: I cannot explain that in lines.
   
Audience: Your cracked country lips I still wish to kiss, as to be under the strength of your skin. Your magnetic movements still capture the minutes I'm in.
   
Dylan:

But it grieves my heart love, to see you tryin' to be a part of a world that just don't exist. It's all just a dream, babe, a vacuum a scheme, babe, that sucks you into feelin' like this.

I've heard you say many times that you're better that no one and no one is better than you. If you really believe that you know you've got nothing to win and nothing to lose. From fixtures and forces and friends your sorrow does stem. That hype you and type you making you feel that you must be exactly like them.

I'd forever talk to you but soon my words would turn into a meaningless ring. For deep in my heart I know there's no help I can bring. Everything passes, everything changes. Just do what you think you should do. And someday maybe, who knows baby, I'll come and be cryin' to you.

 


Signs on the windows 

On the 2nd April 1995 Bob Dylan played a concert at The Aston Villa Leisure Centre, Birmingham, England. To see the track listing for the concert look here.

To find out more about what Dylan was doing in 1995, visit one of the most fantastic Dylan sites on the internet here.

An excellent William Blake site can be found here.

 
 
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